By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
The Clemson baseball team has some new faces this season. The stadium will look a little different. But according to hitting coach Bradley LeCroy, nothing has changed.
“Any year at Clemson, your expectation is to get to Omaha and compete for a national championship,” he said. “We feel like, with the guys returning and the guys that we have new to the program, that our talent level, our experience level is there to be able to do that.”
The 2013 Tigers will be largely reconvened this season, as 23 lettermen return to build on last season’s 40-win campaign. Any time such a large core comes back, additional expectations follow, and enough experience remains from the team that battled youth in winning sixty percent of its conference games a season ago to inspire the fan base to think big.
Clemson has an embarrassment of riches in the field and in the lineup, with eight returners who made significant contributions to last year’s team. Familiarity breeds confidence, and LeCroy hopes that dynamic is in play with his bunch in 2014.
But as a nationally renowned recruiter, LeCroy also recognizes the abilities of the players being added to the fold. He thinks there are true freshmen good enough to push for playing time, which he says is pleasing to the coaching staff.
“Inter-team competition brings out the best in everybody,” he said. “When you have good players at every position, one and two on the depth chart, those guys are competing against each other, and they’re going to bring the best out of each other.”
The only missing piece from the fielding arrangement this season is centerfielder Thomas Brittle, a defensive stalwart on last season’s team. Tyler Slaton is the leader to replace him, leaving a jumbled mess at left field.
The staff hoped Shane Kennedy—the team’s leading hitter and base-stealer last season—could transition to the outfield. However, a knee injury to the all-conference performer has left the spot up-for-grabs once again.
“He had a great fall there until he got injured,” LeCroy said of Kennedy. “He was really learning how to play the outfield position, and obviously we all know what kind of offensive player he is.”
There is plenty to be excited about in the rotation, where five players who started games last season come back. The list includes Friday starter Daniel Gossett and freshman all-America selection Matthew Crownover.
LeCroy says the staff is excited about the different options at their disposal, both to start and finish games. Overall, the depth of talent returning—plus the influx of quality arms—is expected to make the Tigers formidable once again in that department.
So far, the returns on the team’s preparedness for the grind of the season are good, according to LeCroy. He thinks it will be a process that will yield positive returns.
“These guys have the right mindset,” LeCroy said. “They have the right drive and competitive juices to get what it takes to get to Omaha and compete for a national championship.”